« PreviousContinue »
nor the scale of the work very correctly regu- | plaud. We suspect, indeed, from various lated as to either; so that we have alternately passages in these volumes, that the Irish too much and too little of both:-that the standard of good conversation is radically dif style is rather wordy and diffuse, and the ex- ferent from the English; and that a tone of tracts and citations too copious; so that, on the exhibition and effect is still tolerated in that whole, the book, like some others, would be country, which could not be long endured in improved by being reduced to little more than good society in this. A great proportion of half its present size-a circumstance which the colloquial anecdotes in this work, confirm makes it only the more necessary that we us in this belief-and nothing more than the should endeavour to make a manageable ab- encomium bestowed on Mr. Curran's own constract of it, for the use of less patient readers. versation, as abounding in "those magical Mr. Curran's parentage and early life are transitions from the most comic turns of now of no great consequence. He was born, thought to the deepest pathos, and for ever however, of respectable parents, and received bringing a tear into the eye before the smile a careful and regular education. He was a was off the lip." In this more frigid and faslittle wild at college; but left it with the char- tidious country, we really have no idea of a acter of an excellent scholar, and was univer-man talking pathetically in good company,and still less of good company sitting and crying to him. Nay, it is not even very consonant with our notions, that a gentleman should be "most comical."
sally popular among his associates, not less for his amiable temper than his inexhaustible vivacity. He wrote baddish verses at this time, and exercised himself in theological discourses: for his first destination was for the Church; and he afterwards took to the Law, very much to his mother's disappointment and mortification-who was never reconciled to the change and used, even in the meridian of his fame, to lament what a mighty preacher had been lost to the world, and to exclaim, that, but for his versatility, she might have died the mother of a Bishop! It was better as it was. Unquestionably he might have been a very great preacher; but we doubt whether he would have been a good parish priest, or even an exemplary bishop.
Irish lawyers are obliged to keep their terms in London; and, for the poorer part of them, it seems to be but a dull and melancholy noviciate. Some of his early letters, with which we are here presented, give rather an amiable and interesting picture of young Curran's feelings in this situation-separated at once from all his youthful friends and admirers, and left without money or recommendation in the busy crowds of a colder and more venal people. During the three years he passed in the metropolis, he seems to have entered into no society, and never to have come in contact with a single distinguished individual. He saw Garrick on the stage, and Lord Mansfield on the bench; and this exhausts his list of illustrious men in London. His only associates seem to have been a few of his countrymen, as poor and forlorn as himself. Yet the life they lived seems to have been virtuous and honourable. They contracted no debts, and committed no excesses. Curran himself rose early, and read diligently till dinner; and, in the evening, he usually went, as much for improvement as relaxation, to a sixpenny debating club. For a long time, however, he was too nervous and timid to act any other part than that of an auditor, and did not find even the germ of that singular talent which was afterwards improved to such a height, till it was struck out as it were by an accidental collision in this obscure arena. There is a long account of this in the book before us, as it is said to have been rebeatedly given by Mr. C. himself-but in a style which we cannot conscientiously ap
As to the taste and character of Mr. Curran's oratory, we may have occasion to say a word or two hereafter.-At present, it is only necessary to remark, that besides the public exercitations now alluded to, he appears to have gone through the most persevering and laborious processes of private study, with a view to its improvement-not only accustoming himself to debate imaginary cases alone, with the most anxious attention, but " "reciting perpetually before a mirror," to acquire à graceful gesticulation! and studiously imitating the tone and manner of the most celebrated speakers. The authors from whom he chiefly borrowed the matter of these solitary declamations were Junius and Lord Bolingbroke and the poet he most passionately admired was Thomson. He also used to declaim occasionally from Milton-but, in his maturer age, came to think less highly of that great poet. One of his favourite exercises was the funeral oration of Antony over the body of Cæsar, as it is given by Shakespeare; the frequent recitation of which he used to recommend to his young friends at the Bar, to the latest period of his life.
He was called to the Bar in 1775, in his twenty-fifth year-having rather imprudently married two years before-and very soon altained to independence and distinction. There is a very clever little disquisition introduced here by the author, on the very different, and almost opposite taste in eloquence which has prevailed at the Bar of England and Ireland respectively;-the one being in general cold and correct, unimpassioned and technical; the other discursive, rhetorical, and embellished or encumbered, with flights of fancy and ap peals to the passions. These peculiarities the author imputes chiefly to the difference in the national character and general temperament of the two races, and to the unsubdued and unrectified prevalence of all that is characteristic of their country in those classes out of which the Juries of Ireland are usually selected. He ascribes them also, in part, to the circumstance of almost all the barristers of distinction having been introduced, very early in life, to the fierce and tumultuary arena of
the Irish House of Commons-the Government being naturally desirous of recruiting their ranks with as many efficient combatants as possible from persons residing in the metropolis-and Opposition looking, of course, to the same great seminary for the antagonists with whom these were to be confronted.
countries have consequently given way to that universal love of long-speaking, which, we verily believe, never can be repressed by any thing but the absolute impossibility of indulg ing it :-while their prolixity has taken a different character, not so much from the temperament of the speakers, as from the difference of the audiences they have generally had to address. In Ireland, the greater part of their tediousness is bestowed on Juries-and their vein consequently has been more popular. With us in Scotland the advocate has to speak chiefly to the Judges-and naturally endeav ours, therefore, to make that impression by subtlety, or compass of reasoning, which he would in vain attempt, either by pathos, poetry, or jocularity.-Professional speakers, in short, we are persuaded, will always speak as long as they can be listened to.-The quantity of their eloquence, therefore, will depend on the time that can be afforded for its display
and its quality, on the nature of the audience to which it is addressed.
We cannot say that either of these solutions is to us very satisfactory. There was heat enough certainly, and to spare, in the Irish Parliament; but the barristers who came there had generally kindled with their own fire, before repairing to that fountain. They had formed their manner, in short, and distinguished themselves by their ardour, before they were invited to display it in that assembly; and it would be quite as plausible to refer the intemperate warmth of the Parliamentary debates to the infusion of hot-headed gladiators from the Bar, as to ascribe the general over-zeal of the profession to the fever some of them might have caught in the Senate. In England, we believe, this effect has never been observed-and in Ireland it But though we cannot admit that the causes has outlived its supposed causes-the Bar of assigned by this author are the main or funthat country being still (we understand) as rhe-damental causes of the peculiarity of Irish torical and impassioned as ever, though its leg- oratory, we are far from denying that there is islature has long ceased to have an existence. much in it of a national character, and indicating something extraordinary either in the temper of the people, or in the state of society among them. There is, in particular, a much greater Irascibility; with its usual concomitants of coarseness and personality,—and a much more Theatrical tone, or a taste for forced and exaggerated sentiments, than would be tolerated on this side of the Channel. Of the former attribute, the continual, and, we must say, most indecent altercations that are recorded in these volumes between the Bench and the Bar, are certainly the most flagrant and offensive examples. In some cases the Judges were perhaps the aggressors-but the violence and indecorum is almost wholly on the side of the Counsel; and the excess and intemperance of their replies generally goes far beyond any thing for which an apology can be found in the provocation that had been given. A very striking instance occurs in an early part of Mr. Curran's history, where he is said to have observed, upon an opinion delivered by Judge Robinson, "that he had never met with the law as laid down by his Lordship in any book in his library;" and, upon his Lordship rejoining, somewhat scornfully, "that he suspected his library was very small," the offended barrister, in allusion to the known fact of the Judge having recently published some anonymous pamphlets, thought fit to reply, that his library might be small, but he thanked Heaven that, among his books, there were none of the wretched productions of the frantic pamphleteers of the day. I find it more instructive, my lord, to study good works than to compose bad ones! My books may be few, but the title-pages give me the writers' names-my shelf is not disgraced by any of such rank absurdity that their very authors are ashamed to own them." (p. 122.) On another occasion, when he was proceeding in an argument with his charac
As to the effects of temperament and national character, we confess we are still more sceptical-at least when considered as the main causes of the phenomenon in question. Professional peculiarities, in short, we are persuaded, are to be referred much more to the circumstances of the profession, than to the national character of those who exercise it; and the more redundant eloquence of the Irish bar, is better explained, probably, by the smaller quantity of business in their courts, than by the greater vivacity of their fancy, or the warmth of their hearts. We in Scotland have also a forensic eloquence of our ownmore speculative, discursive, and ambitious than that of England-but less poetical and passionate than that of Ireland; and the peculiarity might be plausibly ascribed, here also, to the imputed character of the nation, as distinguished for logical acuteness and intrepid questioning of authority, rather than for richness of imagination, or promptitude of feeling.
We do not mean, however, altogether to deny the existence or the operation of these causes-but we think the effect is produced chiefly by others of a more vulgar description. The small number of Courts and Judges in England-compared to its great wealth, population, and business-has made brevity and despatch not only important but indispensable qualifications in an advocate in great practice, -since it would be physically impossible either for him or for the Courts to get through their business without them. All mere ornamental speaking, therefore, is not only severely discountenanced, but absolutely debarred; and the most technical, direct, and authoritative views of the case alone can be listened to. But judicial time, to use the language of Bentham is not of the same high value, either in Ireland or in Scotland; and the pleaders of those
teristic impetuosity, the presiding Judge hav-influence with the priest to obtain a remission ing called to the Sheriff to be ready to take His Lordship went accordingly to the cabin into custody any one who should disturb the of the aged pastor, who came bareheaded to decorum of the Court, the sensitive counsellor the door with his missal in his hand; and afat once applying the notice to himself, is re- ter hearing the application, respectfully anported to have broken out into the following swered, that the sentence having been imposed incredible apostrophe-" Do, Mr. Sheriff," re- by the Bishop, could only be relaxed by the plied Mr. Curran, "go and get ready my dun- same authority-and that he had no right or geon! Prepare a bed of straw for me; and power to interfere with it. The noble mediupon that bed I shall to-night repose with more ator, on this struck the old man! and drove tranquillity than I should enjoy were I sitting him with repeated blows from his presence. upon that bench, with a consciousness that I The priest then brought his action of damages disgraced it!"-Even his reply to Lord Clare,—but for a long time could find no advocate when interrupted by him in an argument be- hardy enough to undertake his cause!-ard fore the Privy Council, seems to us much more when young Curran at last made offer of his petulant than severe. His Lordship, it seems, services, he was blamed and pitied by all his had admonished him that he was wandering prudent friends for his romantic and Quixotic from the question; and Mr. C. after some rashness. general observations, replied, "I am aware, my lords, that truth is to be sought only by slow and painful progress: I know also that error is in its nature flippant and compendious; it hops with airy and fastidious levity over proofs and arguments, and perches upon assertion, which it calls conclusion."-To Lord Clare, however, Mr. C. had every possible temptation to be intractable and impertinent. But even to his best friends, when placed on the seat of judgment, he could not always forbear a similar petulance. Lord Avonmore was always most kind and indulgent to himbut he too was sometimes in the habit, it seems, of checking his wanderings, and sometimes of too impatiently anticipating his conclusions. Upon one of these occasions, and in the middle of a solemn argument, we are called on to admire the following piece of vulgar and farcical stupidity, as a specimen of Mr. C's most judicious pleasantry:
“Perhaps, my lord, I am straying; but you must impute it to the extreme agitation of my mind. I have just witnessed so dreadful a circumstance, that my imagination has not yet recovered from the shock.'-His lordship was now all attention. On my way to court, my lord, as I passed by one of the markets, I observed a butcher proceeding to slaughter a calf. Just as his hand was raised. a lovely little child approached him unperceived, and, terrible to relate-I still see the life-blood gushing out-the poor child's bosom was under his hand, when he plunged his knife into-into'- Into the bosom of the child! cried out the judge, with much emotion into the neck of the calf, my lord; but your lordship sometimes anticipates!'
But this is not quite fair. There is no more such nonsense in the book-nor any other Iricism so discreditable to the taste either of its hero or its author. There are plenty of traits, however, that make one blush for the degradation, and shudder at the government of that magnificent country.-One of the most striking is supplied by an event in the early part of Mr. C's professional history, and one to which he is here said to have been indebted for his first celebrity. A nobleman of great weight and influence in the country-we gladly suppress his name, though it is given in the book-had a mistress, whose brother being a Catholic, had, for some offence, been sentenced to ecclesiastical penance-and the young woman solicited her keeper to use his
These facts speak volumes as to the utter perversion of moral feeling that is produced by unjust laws, and the habits to which they give rise. No nation is so brave or so generous as the Irish,—and yet an Irish nobleman could be guilty of the brutality of striking an aged Ecclesiastic without derogating from his dignity or honour.-No body of men could be more intrepid and gallant than the leaders of the Irish bar; and yet it was thought too daring and presumptuous for any of them to assist the sufferer in obtaining redress for an outrage like this. In England, those things are inconceivable: But the readers of Irish history are aware, that where the question was between Peer and Peasant-and still more when it was between Protestant and Catholic
the barristers had cause for apprehension. It was but about forty years before, that upon a Catholic bringing an action for the recovery of his confiscated estates, the Irish House of all barristers, solicitors, attorneys, and proctors Commons publicly voted a resolution, “that who should be concerned for him, should be considered as public enemies!" This was in 1735. In 1780, however, Mr. C. found the service not quite so dangerous; and by great eloquence and exertion extorted a reluctant verdict, and thirty guineas of damages, from a Protestant Jury. The sequel of the affair was not less characteristic. In the first place, it involved the advocate in a duel with a witness whom he had rather outrageously abused
and, in the next place, it was thought sufficient to justify a public notification to him, on the part of the noble defendant, that his audacity should be punished by excluding him from all professional employment wherever his influence could extend. The insolence of such a communication might well have warranted a warlike reply: But Mr. C. ex pressed his contempt in a gayer, and not less effectual manner. Pretending to misunderstand the tenor of the message, he answered aloud, in the hearing of his friends, "My good sir, you may tell his lordship, that it is in vain for him to be proposing terms of accommodation; for after what has happened, I protest I think, while I live, I never can hold a brief for him or one of his family." The threat, indeed, proved as impotent as it was pitiful; for the spirit and talent which the young
counsellor had displayed through the whole scene, not only brought him into unbounded popularity with the lower orders, but instantly raised him to a distinguished place in the ranks of his profession.*
self for the vulgar calumnies of an infuriated faction, in the friendship and society of such men as Lords Moira, Charlemont, and Kilwarden-Grattan, Ponsonby, and Flood.
The incorporating union of 1800 is said to We turn gladly, and at once, from this have filled Mr. C. with incurable despondency dreadful catastrophe. Never certainly was as to the fate of his country. We have great short-lived tranquillity-or rather permanent indulgence for this feeling-but we cannot danger so dearly bought. The vengeance of sympathise with it. The Irish parliament the law followed the havoc of the sword- was a nuisance that deserved to be abatedand here again we meet Mr. C. in his strength and the British legislature, with all its partiand his glory. But we pass gladly over these alities, and its still more blamable neglects, melancholy trials; in which we are far from may be presumed, we think, to be more acinsinuating, that there was any reprehensible cessible to reason, to justice, and to shame, severity on the part of the Government. When than the body which it superseded. Mr. C. matters had come that length, they had but was not in Parliament when that great meaone duty before them--and they seem to have sure was adopted. But, in the course of that discharged it (if we except one or two pos- year, he delivered a very able argument in thumous attainders) with mercy as well as the case of Napper Tandy, of which the only fairness: for after a certain number of victims published report is to be found in the volumes had been selected, an arrangement was made before us. In 1802, he made his famous with the rest of the state prisoners, under speech in Hevey's case, against Mr. Sirr, the which they were allowed to expatriate them-town-major of Dublin; which affords a strong selves for life. It would be improper, how- picture of the revolting and atrocious barbariever, to leave the subject, without offering ties which are necessarily perpetrated, when our tribute of respect and admiration to the the solemn tribunals are silenced, and inferior singular courage, fidelity, and humanity, with agents intrusted with arbitrary power. The which Mr. C. persisted, throughout these ago- speech, in this view of it, is one of the most nising scenes, in doing his duty to the unfor- striking and instructive in the published votunate prisoners, and watching over the ad- lume, which we noticed in our thirteenth voministration of that law, from the spectacle of lume. During the peace of Amiens, Mr. C. whose vengeance there was so many tempta- made a short excursion to France, and was by tions to withdraw. This painful and heroic no means delighted with what he saw there. task he undertook-and never blenched from In a letter to his son from Paris, in October its fulfilment, in spite of the toil and disgust, 1802, he says,and the obloquy and personal hazard, to which it continually exposed him. In that inflamed state of the public mind, it is easy to understand that the advocate was frequently confounded with the client; and that, besides the murderous vengeance of the profligate inform-man ers he had so often to denounce, he had to encounter the passions and prejudices of all those who chose to look on the defender of traitors as their associate. Instead of being cheered, therefore, as formerly, by the applauses of his auditors, he was often obliged to submit to their angry interruptions; and was actually menanced more than once, in the open court, by the clashing arms and indignant menaces of the military spectators. He had excessive numbers of soldiers, too, billetted on him, and was in many other ways exposed to loss and vexation: But he bore it all, with the courage of his country, and the dignity due to his profession-and consoled him
The extinction of the rebellion-by the slaughter of fifty thousand of the insurgents, and upwards of twenty thousand of the soldiery and their adhe
I am glad I have come here. I entertained many ideas of it, which I have entirely given up, or very much indeed altered. Never was there a scene that could furnish more to the weeping or the grinning philosopher; they well might agree that hu
affairs were a sad joke. I see it every where, round; only changed some spokes and a few feland in every thing. The wheel has run a complete lows,' very little for the better, but the axle certainly has not rusted; nor do I see any likelihood of its rusting. At present all is quiet, except the tongue, thanks to those invaluable protectors of peace, the army!!"-Vol. ii. pp. 206, 207.
The greater part of what follows in the original paper is now omitted; as touching on points in the modern history of Ireland which has been sufficient-by ly discussed under preceding titles. I retain only what relates to Mr. Curran personally; or to those peculiarities in his eloquence which refer rather to his country than to the individual: though, for the sake chiefly of connection, I have made one allusion to the sad and most touching Judicial Tragedy which followed up the deplorable Field scenes of
the rebellion of 1798.
The public life of Mr. C. was now drawing to a close. He distinguished himself in 1804 in the Marquis of Headfort's case, and in that of Judge Johnson in 1805: But, on the accession of the Whigs to office in 1806, he was appointed to the situation of Master of the Rolls, and never afterwards made any public appearance. He was not satisfied with this appointment; and took no pains to conceal his dissatisfaction. His temper, perhaps, was by this time somewhat soured by ill health; and his notion of his own importance exaggerated
the flattery of which he had long been the daily object. Perhaps, too, the sudden withdrawing of those tasks and excitements, to which he had been so long accustomed, cooperating with the languor of declining age, may have affected his views of his own situation: But it certainly appears that he was never very gay or good-humoured after his promotion-and passed but a dull and peevish time of it during the remainder of his life. In 1810, he went, for the first time, to Scotland;
and we cannot deny our nationality the plea- In France, nowever, he was not much bet sure of his honest testimony. He writes thus ter off-and returned, complaining of a conto a friend soon after his arrival on our shore:-stitutional dejection, "for which he could find no remedy in water or in wine." He rejoices in the downfall of Bonaparte; and is of opinion that the Revolution had thrown that country a century back. in spring 1817, he began to sink rapidly; and had a slight paralytic attack in one of his hands. He proposed to try another visit to France; and still complained of the depression of his spirits:-" he had a mountain of lead (he said) on his heart." Early in October, he had a very severe shock of apoplexy, and lingered till the 14th, when he expired in his 68th year.
There is a very able and eloquent chapter on the character of Mr. Curran's eloquenceencomiastic of course, but written with great temper, talent, and discrimination. Its charm and its defects, the learned author refers to at-emotion in which all his best performances the state of genuine passion and vehement were delivered; and speaks of its effects on his auditors of all descriptions, in terms which can leave no doubt of its substantial excellence. We cannot now enter into these rhetorical disquisitions-though they are full of interest and instruction to the lovers of oratory. It is more within our province to notice, that he is here said to have spoken extempore at his first coming to the Bar; but when his rising reputation made him more chary of his fame, he tried for some time to write down, and commit to memory, the more important parts of his pleadings. The result, however, was not at all encouraging: and he soon laid aside his pen so entirely, as scarcely even to make any notes in preparation. He meditated his subjects, however, when strolling in his garden, or more frequently while idling over his violin; and often prepared, in this way, those splendid passages and groups of images with which he was afterwards to dazzle and enchant his admirers. The only notes he made were often of the metaphors he proposed to employ-and these of the utmost brevity. For the grand peroration, for example, in H. Rowan's case, his notes were as follows:-"Character of Mr. R.- Furnace · Rebellion-smotheredStalks-Redeeming Spirit." From such slight hints he spoke fearlessly-and without cause for fear. With the help of such a scanty chart, he plunged boldly into the unbuoyed channel of his cause; and trusted himself to the torrent of his own eloquence, with no better guidance than such landmarks as these. It almost invariably happened, however, that the experiment succeeded; "that his own expectations were far exceeded; and that, when his mind came to be more intensely heated by his subject, and by that inspiring confidence which a public audience seldom fails to infuse into all who are sufficiently gifted to receive it, a multitude of new ideas adding vigour or ornament, were given off and it also happened, that, in the same pro lific moments, and as their almost inevitable consequence, some crude and fantastic notions escaped; which, if they impeach their author's taste, at least leave him the merit of a
"I am greatly delighted with this country. You see no trace here of the devil working against the wisdom and beneficence of God, and torturing and degrading his creatures. It may seem the romaneing of travelling; but I am satisfied of the fact, that the poorest man here has his children taught to read and write, and that in every house is found a Bible, and in almost every house a clock: And the fruits of this are manifest in the intelligence and manners of all ranks. In Scotland, what a work have the four-and-twenty letters to show for themselves!the natural enemies of vice, and folly, and slavery the great sowers, but the still greater weeders, of the human soil. Nowhere can you see here the cringing hypocrisy of dissembled detestation, so inseparable from oppression: and as little do you meet the hard, and dull, and right-lined angles of the southern visage; you find the notion exact and the phrase direct, with the natural tone of the Scot
The first night, at Ballintray, the landlord tended us at supper; he would do so, though we begged him not. We talked to him of the cultiva. tion of potatoes. I said, I wondered at his taking them in place of his native food, oatmeal, so much more substantial. His answer struck nie as very characteristic of the genius of Scotland-frugal, tender, and picturesque. 'Sir,' said he, we are not so much i' the wrong as you think; the tilth is easy, they are swift i' the cooking, they take little fuel and then it is pleasant to see the gude wife wi' a' her bairns aboot the pot, and each wi' a potatoe in its hand.'"-Vol. ii. pp. 254-256.
There are various other interesting letters in these volumes, and in particular a long one to the Duke of Sussex, in favour of Catholic Emancipation; but we can no longer afford room for extracts, and must indeed hurry through our abstract of what remains to be noticed of his life. He canvassed the burgh of Newry unsuccessfully in 1812. His health failed very much in 1813; and the year after, he resigned his situation, and came over to London in his way to France. He seems at no time to have had much relish for English society. In one of his early letters, he complains of "the proud awkward sulk" of London company, and now he characterises it with still greater severity:
I question if it is much better in Paris. Here the parade is gross, and cold, and vulgar; there it is, no doubt, more flippant, and the attitude more graceful; but in either place is not Society equally a tyrant and a slave? The judgment despises it. and the heart renounces it. We seek it because we are idle; we are idle because we are silly; and the natural remedy is some social intercourse, of which a few drops would restore; but we swallow the whole vial, and are sicker of the remedy than we were of the disease."-Vol. ii. pp. 337, 338.
And again, a little after,
England is not a place for society. It is 100 cold, too vain.-without pride enough to be humble, drowned in dull fantastical formality, vulgarized by rank without talent, and talent foolishly recommending itself by weight rather than by fashiona perpetual war between the disappointed pretension of talent and the stupid overweening of affect ed patronage; means without enjoyment, pursuits without an object, and society without conversation or intercourse: Perhaps they manage this better in France-a few days, I think, will enable me to decide."-Vol. ii. pp. 345, 346.